By Seamus Heaney

He would drink by himself 
And raise a weathered thumb 
Towards the high shelf, 
Calling another rum 
And blackcurrant, without 
Having to raise his voice, 
Or order a quick stout 
By a lifting of the eyes 
And a discreet dumb-show 
Of pulling off the top; 
At closing time would go 
In waders and peaked cap 
Into the showery dark, 
A dole-kept breadwinner 
But a natural for work. 
I loved his whole manner, 
Sure-footed but too sly, 
His deadpan sidling tact, 
His fisherman's quick eye 
And turned observant back. 

To him, my other life. 
Sometimes on the high stool, 
Too busy with his knife 
At a tobacco plug 
And not meeting my eye, 
In the pause after a slug 
He mentioned poetry. 
We would be on our own 
And, always politic 
And shy of condescension, 
I would manage by some trick 
To switch the talk to eels 
Or lore of the horse and cart 
Or the Provisionals. 

But my tentative art 
His turned back watches too: 
He was blown to bits 
Out drinking in a curfew 
Others obeyed, three nights 
After they shot dead 
The thirteen men in Derry. 
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said, 
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday 
Everyone held 
His breath and trembled. 


It was a day of cold 
Raw silence, wind-blown 
Surplice and soutane: 
Rained-on, flower-laden 
Coffin after coffin 
Seemed to float from the door 
Of the packed cathedral 
Like blossoms on slow water. 
The common funeral 
Unrolled its swaddling band, 
Lapping, tightening 
Till we were braced and bound 
Like brothers in a ring. 

But he would not be held 
At home by his own crowd 
Whatever threats were phoned, 
Whatever black flags waved. 
I see him as he turned 
In that bombed offending place, 
Remorse fused with terror 
In his still knowable face, 
His cornered outfaced stare 
Blinding in the flash. 

He had gone miles away 
For he drank like a fish 
Nightly, naturally 
Swimming towards the lure 
Of warm lit-up places, 
The blurred mesh and murmur 
Drifting among glasses 
In the gregarious smoke. 
How culpable was he 
That last night when he broke 
Our tribe's complicity? 
'Now, you're supposed to be 
An educated man,' 
I hear him say. 'Puzzle me 
The right answer to that one.' 


I missed his funeral, 
Those quiet walkers 
And sideways talkers 
Shoaling out of his lane 
To the respectable 
Purring of the hearse... 
They move in equal pace 
With the habitual 
Slow consolation 
Of a dawdling engine, 
The line lifted, hand 
Over fist, cold sunshine 
On the water, the land 
Banked under fog: that morning 
I was taken in his boat, 
The screw purling, turning 
Indolent fathoms white, 
I tasted freedom with him. 
To get out early, haul 
Steadily off the bottom, 
Dispraise the catch, and smile 
As you find a rhythm 
Working you, slow mile by mile, 
Into your proper haunt 
Somewhere, well out, beyond... 

Dawn-sniffing revenant, 
Plodder through midnight rain, 
Question me again.
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